Leicester’s habit of conceding late goals and Maresca’s lack of substitutions

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Over their last 14 games in all competitions, Leicester City have won nine, drawn three and lost just two, scoring 30 goals and conceding 15.

Another productive period for Enzo Maresca’s men has seen them move a step closer to an instant return to the Premier League and advance to the FA Cup’s fourth round, which sees them play at home on Saturday against a Birmingham City side 34 points below them in the Championship table.

It is a good time to be a Leicester fan, especially after the trauma of that shock relegation eight months ago. However, there has been a trend in those results that has caused some concern. It hasn’t dramatically impacted their season yet, but it is an area Maresca knows his side must improve.

Of those 15 goals conceded, 11 have come after the 74th minute, nine past the 83rd, six beyond the 88th and four in stoppage time. One has taken a huge deflection off Jannik Vestergaard, and five have come either directly from set pieces or half-cleared set pieces.

Although they are seven points clear at the top of the table anyway, these late concessions have cost Leicester another 10 points. 

It began on November 11, when Sam Greenwood converted a free kick in the 83rd minute to snatch victory for Middlesbrough at the Riverside, and just over two weeks later, Jeff Hendrick fired home a scrambled 93rd-minute equaliser from a long ball into the box for Sheffield Wednesday to deny Maresca’s men victory at Hillsborough.

Three days later, Josh Maja almost repeated Hendrick’s feat for West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns in the 89th minute, again from a ball into the box, only for Harry Winks to score a winner in stoppage time. Leicester have also closed out wins at Millwall and Birmingham despite late goals from their opponents.

On December 26, Sam Morsy snatched a point for promotion rivals Ipswich Town in the 93rd minute at Portman Road, via that Vestergaard deflection, with lightning striking twice in the return fixture at King Power Stadium on Monday night when substitute Jeremy Sarmiento prevented Leicester from moving 10 points clear of his club with an 89th-minute equaliser.

In between those matches, Leicester progressed in the FA Cup at the expense of Millwall despite an 86th-minute Zian Flemming goal giving the hosts late hope by cutting the deficit to 3-2, again from a corner. All three of Coventry City’s goals the following weekend — as they came from behind to beat 10-man Leicester on home soil — came in the final 11 minutes of the 90 or stoppage time, though Abdul Fatawu’s red card just before half-time hardly helped.

Fatigue could be a factor in all this, as could the fact Maresca doesn’t make many substitutions.

In their 28 league games this season, Leicester have made 104 changes, an average of 3.7 of the five allowed each team per game. That is the third-lowest rate in the division, just ahead of Coventry (96) and Huddersfield Town (91), and 30 less than the sides who tweak their teams the most, Ipswich and West Brom (134), who are averaging 4.8 substitutions across 28 the matches.

Ipswich’s switches make a difference — they have secured a Championship-best 21 points from losing positions — but Leicester like to control games through possession.

Maresca’s Leicester have a similar team shape to the sides of his former Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, and share the 2022-23 treble winners’ philosophy of moving the ball to move the opposition. In many ways, the two managers’ use (or not) of substitutes is similar, too.

In the 20 Premier League games played so far, Guardiola has used just 56 substitutes (an average of 2.8 per game) — the lowest total in the division. Across the 38 league fixtures of last season, only Everton (116) made fewer than his 123 changes (3.2 a match).

Guardiola only makes changes if he feels he can improve what’s already on the pitch and quite often the Manchester City bar is so high that they are invariably in control of proceedings. Changes for change’s sake could have a detrimental effect and negatively change the game.

After the defeat to Leeds United in November, Maresca was asked why he hadn’t made more changes (he only used two subs that day, the last of them in the 67th minute) as Leicester chased an equaliser, especially when he had winger Kasey McAteer on the bench as an attacking option.

“Because we were quite happy with the two wingers,” Maresca replied. “They were creating dangers, and it would have been a change for change’s sake. The two substitutions we did were enough.”

In the first 15 Championship games this season, Maresca used his full quota of substitutions five times, but controlling the play and possession is the key factor. Against Ipswich in Monday’s first half, that was certainly the case, however, as this table shows.

Leicester vs Ipswich, first half

First Half Leicester City Ipswich Town

Total passes

273

188

Successful passes

237

153

Successful passes in the opposition half

140

37

Touches in the opposition box

13

5

Successful passes ending in the final 3rd

73

21

Total shots (including blocks)

9

3

Shots on target

4

0

Possession

58.8%

41.2%

It isn’t so much the 58 per cent possession that stands out, but the high proportion of passes into the opposition half and final third compared to their opponents. Had Leicester converted more chances, they would have been put beyond Ipswich by the break.

Ipswich improved in the second half but would more changes by Maresca have made an impact? Looking at his attacking options, only 21-year-old Wanya Marcal and Dennis Praet, who has played less than an hour of football since August because of a back problem, were left unused.

Leicester vs Ipswich, second half

Second Half Leicester City Ipswich Town

Total passes

206

184

Successful passes

177

153

Successful passes in the opposition half

54

50

Touches in the opposition box

10

12

Successful passes ending in the final third

34

23

Total shots (including blocks)

6

8

Shots on target

3

3

Possession

52.2%

47.8%

Before Jamie Vardy’s return this week from two months out injured, Maresca was operating with one fit striker, Tom Cannon. Fatawu’s suspension also left him with reduced options in wide areas while Wilfred Ndidi’s injury and Cesare Casadei’s return to Chelsea, after his season’s loan was cut short, reduced the attacking midfield depth.

Leicester have a good squad but are limited by the absences of game-changing players.

Maresca likes to make changes that will help his side maintain or regain control of possession. Looking at his bench on Monday, there weren’t many of those types of players, or the physicality in midfield, that could have made a difference against Ipswich. That’s why the manager is so keen to sign a midfielder before the transfer window closes a week today (Thursday).

Defensive changes to hold onto a one-goal lead may have worked, but probably at the cost of conceding some level of that control over play he treasures.

Fatigue, mental resilience, the pressure of the promotion push and the expectation associated with being the team everyone wants to beat could all be as much a factor as tactical tweaks as are, undoubtedly, an inability to put games to bed when the game is under Leicester’s spell, giving opponents motivation and the precious commodity of hope.

(Top photo: Leicester despair after Ipswich’s late equaliser on Monday. Michael Regan/Getty Images)





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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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